Macron woos Trump with Parisian splendour in lesson for Europe

French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte hosted US President Donald Trump and his wife Melania to dinner at the Le Jules Verne Restaurant on the Eiffel Tower in Paris on Thursday (July 13). With them is French chef Alain Ducasse.
French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte hosted US President Donald Trump and his wife Melania to dinner at the Le Jules Verne Restaurant on the Eiffel Tower in Paris on Thursday (July 13). With them is French chef Alain Ducasse.PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (BLOOMBERG) - Mr Donald Trump famously said in February that "Paris is no longer Paris". On Thursday (July 13), after Mr Emmanuel Macron showed him the town and met him at the gilded Élysée Palace, the American President ladled praise on the French capital and the country's 39-year-old leader.

He even suggested that his opposition to the Paris climate accord is not set in stone.

It was the fourth meeting between the two leaders since Mr Macron's election in May. They have acrimoniously clashed over climate change and Mr Macron has made not-so-hidden allusions to his opposition to building "walls", but on Thursday they stressed their common positions, from trade to terrorism.

Preceding the visit, French officials laid out their strategy to approach Mr Trump: hold your ground where you disagree, and pivot to areas of agreement. And do not forget his love of pomp and the military.

The strategy seemed to work. Mr Trump's mysterious friend "Jim", whom he described in a February speech to conservative activists as a once-frequent visitor to Paris who recently discontinued his trips because of the threat of terrorism, was nowhere to be found.

"You have a great president, and I think you're going to have a very peaceful and beautiful Paris, and I'm coming back," Mr Trump said at a joint news conference with Mr Macron.

EUROPEAN 'ADJUSTMENT'

Mr Macron had never held elective office before winning France's presidency, and all his previous government positions have been in the economic domain. But he has quickly put a stamp on international affairs, lecturing Russia's President Vladimir Putin about meddling in France's election during a May meeting in Versailles, and calling Mr Trump last month to say France would join the United States in any air strikes should the Syrian regime resort again to using chemical weapons.

"What we've witnessed over the last month or so since Trump's first trip to Europe is an adjustment in how Europe is going to deal with Trump," said Mr Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council for Foreign Relations who was the senior director for European affairs on the National Security Council in the Barack Obama administration.

"Macron gets stature. He's raising France's profile and its game after a period in which many French voters were profoundly apathetic about the French presidency." In Europe, he's pushing labour liberalisation and tax cuts to win Germany's confidence in his ability to make the French economy more competitive. Mr Macron hosted German Chancellor Angela Merkel just hours before Mr Trump and won assurances from her that she is willing to consider greater solidarity within the euro zone.

PARIS, NOT PITTSBURGH

Even Mr Trump's position on climate change appeared to soften after spending the day with the French leader. Mr Trump announced the US withdrawal from the Paris climate accord shortly after Mr Macron's election, saying that he represents the citizens of "Pittsburgh, not Paris".

Mr Macron responded by inviting US climate scientists to relocate to France and mocking Mr Trump's campaign slogan with a website called "Make Our Planet Great Again". At the news conference, Mr Trump was asked whether he would reconsider withdrawal from the Paris deal.

"Something could happen with respect to the Paris accord," he said. "We'll see what happens. We'll talk about that over the coming period of time. If it happens, that'll be wonderful, and if it doesn't, that'll be OK too." Mr Macron said he "respects" that withdrawal from the accord was part of Mr Trump's campaign platform.

MILITARY ALLIANCE

Mr Macron sought to stress that military matters and anti-terrorism cooperation remain the bedrock of French-US relations. Both leaders noted that the US and France are each other's oldest allies. They will attend the Bastille Day parade together on Friday, where troops of both countries will march to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the US' entry into World War I.

The US provides logistical and intelligence support to French anti-militant operations in the Sahel region of Africa, and French warplanes, special forces and an artillery unit are part of the US-led coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.  "We represent countries that have been allies forever," Mr Macron said at their news conference. "No matter what our functions, our histories go beyond us. The bonds between our countries are bigger than us."

Their positions on trade are not even as far apart as presumed, though Mr Macron won his election on a free trade platform while Mr Trump promised to protect US industry.

"France and the US want to be able to take the necessary measures within the context of free trade that can help us protect the sectors where we are active," Mr Macron said, though he declined to directly address US threats to limit steel imports and European Union warnings of retaliation if it does.

"We want to work together to develop efficient measures to combat dumping wherever it takes place."